- Associated Press - Monday, August 1, 2016

DONALDSONVILLE, La. (AP) - Elray Kocke was only 16 when 100 years ago, he started a scrap metal business, salvaging what still could be used.

Before he died in 1964, Kocke steered the Donaldsonville company that bears his name - Elray Kocke Service Inc. - into the field of new construction.

Today, sixth-generation family members run the company’s hardware store in downtown Donaldsonville, along with its lumber and building supplies business and concrete plant.

A 3-year-old in the family may be the first of the seventh generation to go into the business that reaches its century mark this year.

Margaret “Mimi” Kocke, company secretary, said the success of Elray Kocke Service has hinged “on customer service, I think, compared to the ‘big-box’ ” store.

Another factor?

“Operating on very conservative values, reinvesting into the community and into the business,” said Karl Kocke, Mimi’s brother and treasurer and vice president of the company. A third sibling, Tommy Kocke, is president. Their late father, Robert, who was Elray Kocke’s son, was president in his time.

The company’s 100th anniversary is in December, but it already has begun celebrating, including with a customer appreciation day in April.

“We are so thankful for our past and present customers and employees,” Mimi Kocke said.

The family also is planning a family reunion in September for far-flung Kockes.

Family members outside the business “have always encouraged and supported us through the years,” Karl Kocke said.

From its scrap-metal business, the Kocke family business expanded over the years to hauling heavy equipment, particularly in the oil industry, then moved into lumber and building materials.

And when they went into building materials, they did it in a big way. In 1953, the enterprise opened its own concrete plant on La. 1 in Donaldsonville that today produces 300 yards of concrete per hour, Karl Kocke said. In 1964, the business opened its hardware store, offices and lumber yard at the corner of St. Patrick Street and Mississippi Street in downtown Donaldsonville.

Located in an industry-heavy area, the company’s customers include industrial contractors, along with residential and commercial accounts.

Ascension Parish President Kenny Matassa recognized Elray Kocke Service for its 100th year at a Parish Council meeting in July, saying, “The success of this business can be attributed to the deep commitment to the community and its customers, just as it was forged by Mr. Kocke many years ago.”

Although the family has amassed many scrapbooks of photos and newspaper clippings about the business, some things have been lost to time.

For instance, said Mimi Kocke, nobody knows what brought her grandfather from New Orleans to Donaldsonville in 1916 as a teenager to begin earning a living by collecting the scrap iron, metals and lumber from old buildings, many of them sugar mills, he was paid to demolish. Eventually, Elray Kocke’s father, Harold, joined him in the business.

A newspaper clipping from the early 1940s describes Elray Kocke, by then an established businessman, as the “popular and well-known junk dealer,” who, it says, had just purchased a two-story frame building and planned “to make of it a good and comfortable home for himself and family.”

Karl Kocke purchased the family home that his grandfather lived in, in the block next to the company’s hardware store.

On the floor of the home’s carport, preserved in the concrete, is the frame of a gigantic scale that scrap-lumber trucks used to drive onto to be weighed before being unloaded.

“We’ve grown up in the business and just continued it from generation to generation,” Tommy Kocke said.

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